Paul’s newsletters and the changing tactics of libertarianism

Libertarian Steve Horwitz explains the context of those Ron Paul newsletters with a fascinating survey of the history and the varying strategies of that movement:

The attempt to court the right through appeals to the most unsavory sorts of arguments was a conscious part of the “paleolibertarian” strategy that Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard cooked up in the late 1980s. . . .

Classical liberalism started as a movement of the left, with folks like J.S. Mill being our standard bearers against the forces of reaction and conservatism in England, especially over issues of race. We were the “progressives” of that era, viewing the market as a force for progress for all, especially the least well-off, and as a great equalizer. It was Mill who argued that it was a good thing that markets would lead to racial equality in opposition to people like Carlyle and Ruskin who rejected markets because they wanted to maintain racial hierarchy. The liberal revolution was a revolution against privilege and the old order. It was the radical progressivism of its day.

Unfortunately, classical liberalism never figured out how to respond to the development of socialism, and especially the state socialism of the Soviets and others in the early 20th century, in a way that maintained our progressive credentials. By default, we moved from the “left” to the “right,” thrown in with the conservative opponents of the growing socialist wave. From the Old Right of the 1940s through the Reagan era, libertarianism’s opposition to socialism, especially interferences in the market, led us to ally with the forces of reaction. But even with the demise of really-existing socialism, we have been unable to completely break free of that connection to the right, though things are better than they used to be.

Even as this happened, though, the liberalism of libertarianism did not die. Within that libertarianism on the right was a strong strain of leftism, particularly from the late 1960s into the early or mid 1980s, both in the broader movement and in the Libertarian Party in particular. When I came into the movement in 1980, I can vividly recall meeting members of the Michigan LP and being surprised at how, for lack of a better word, hippie they were, right down to smoking dope during the breaks at the state convention.

By the mid-80s though, conservatism was hot, thanks to Reagan, and the internal strife of the movement pitted Murray Rothbard against the Koch Brothers, with the accusation by Rothbard that the liberal libertarians were undermining the movement’s ability to appeal to a broader audience thanks to their supposed libertinism. Murray wanted the hippies out. The irony here was that it was the Koch controlled parts that were (largely) the source of the left-deviation that pissed Rothbard off. . . .

This led to the paleolibertarian strategy by the end of the decade after Rothbard broke with the Kochs and helped Lew Rockwell found the Mises Institute (originally located on Capitol Hill – right smack inside the hated beltway, it’s worth noting). The paleo strategy, as laid out here [go to the site for the link] by Rockwell, was clearly designed to create a libertarian-conservative fusion exactly along the lines Jacob lays out in his post. It was about appealing to the worst instincts of working/middle class conservative whites by creating the only anti-left fusion possible with the demise of socialism: one built on cultural issues. With everyone broadly agreeing that the market had won, how could you hold together a coalition that opposed the left? Oppose them on the culture. If you read Rockwell’s manifesto through those eyes, you can see the “logic” of the strategy. And it doesn’t take a PhD in Rhetoric to see how that strategy would lead to the racism and other ugliness of newsletters at the center of this week’s debates.

The paleo strategy was a horrific mistake, both strategically and theoretically, though it apparently made some folks (such as Rockwell and Paul) pretty rich selling newsletters predicting the collapse of Western civilization at the hands of the blacks, gays, and multiculturalists. The explicit strategy was abandoned by around the turn of the century, but not after a lot of bad stuff had been written in all kinds of places. . . .

Through it all though, Ron Paul was a constant. He kept plugging away, first at the center of the paleo strategy as evidenced by the newsletters. To be clear, I am quite certain he did not write them. There is little doubt that they were written by Rockwell and Rothbard. . . .

Even after the paleo strategy was abandoned, Ron was still there walking the line between “mainstream” libertarianism and the winking appeal to the hard right courted by the paleo strategy. Paul’s continued contact with the fringe groups of Truthers, racists, and the paranoid right are well documented. . . .

Those of us who watched all of this happen over two decades knew it would come back to haunt us and so it has, unfortunately just as Ron Paul and libertarianism are on the cusp of something really amazing. And that only goes to show what a mistake the paleo strategy was. . . .

So why deal with this now, when libertarianism is so hot? Because those newsletters are not what libertarianism is and the sooner and louder we make that clear, the better. There are too many young people who don’t understand all of this and who we need to help see the alternative liberal vision of libertarianism – and to understand that “liberal libertarianism” is radical, principled, and humane and not “beltway selling out.” To do that, we need to confront the past and explicitly reject it. That doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting Ron Paul in electoral politics, but it does mean that we cannot pretend the past doesn’t exist and it means that Paul and the others involved need to do the right thing and take explicit responsibility for what they said two decades ago. That has not happened yet. Then we need a complete and utter rejection of the paleo world-view and we need to create a movement that will simply not be attractive to racists, homophobes, anti-Semites etc., by emphasizing, as we have done at this blog, libertarianism’s liberal roots.

How Did We Get Here? Or, Why Do 20 Year Old Newsletters Matter So Damn Much? | Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

This explains a lot, but my questions multiply.  So is Ron Paul just an ideological stalking horse?  Are libertarians deliberately disguising themselves in a bid for popularity and political power?  Is libertarianism actually liberal in its anti-traditionalism, radical individualism, and rejection of moral limits?

I had heard Ron Paul described as a conservative Republican with libertarian leanings. I had no idea he was such a movement figure, his prominence probably coming from his being the libertarian who has risen to the highest public office.  I wouldn’t characterize the Paul supporters who participate in this blog–Cincinnatus, tODD, SKPeterson, Father Hogg [an orthodox priest]–as libertarians.  (I’m sure they will correct me if I’m wrong.)  So it must be possible to support Paul even if you aren’t, as he is, a card carrying libertarian.  I haven’t got my mind around that, though.

HT:  Justin Taylor

 

Political developments

Michele Bachmann Drops Out of Presidential Race – ABC News.  If her 6% were to go to Santorum, he’d be a big winner in the Iowa caucus.  Won’t her fans go to him rather than to Romney?

Rick Perry will stay in the race for now.  He went back to Texas to consider his next move, but he announced that he will run in South Carolina.  What I want to know is how a state governor can just take off and run for president.  I come back to the office after a few days off for Christmas and I’m swamped just getting caught up with e-mails!  What must it be like to drop back in to a governor’s office?

John McCain will endorse Mitt Romney. Just what Romney needs!  Won’t Republicans see his similarities to their last losing candidate?

 

Romney wins Iowa by 8 votes

Rick Santorum surged into a virtual tie with Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus votes, the difference being a mere 8 votes.  Ron Paul came in third.  Here are the results, with the raw numbers and the percentages:

Mitt Romney      30,015      24.6%

Rick Santorum   30,007     24.5%

Ron Paul             26,219       21.4%

Newt Gingrich   16,251        13.3%

Rick Perry           12,604       10.3%

Michele Bachmann 6,073     5.0%

Jon Huntsman           745       0.6%

Others                          341        0.3%

 

via Iowa Caucus results, visits and political geography – 2012 Campaign Republican Primary Tracker – The Washington Post.

I’d like to credit my “What’s Wrong with Santorum?” post for turning the tide to him.  (The post was linked to a lot and picked up by a Christian news aggregator.)  [I don't seriously think that.  It was obvious for social conservatives to finally consider the last man standing.  And if anyone read the comments, they would see that you readers found quite a bit wrong with him.]

But still, does this make Santorum the non-Paul alternative to Mitt Romney?

Paul performed worse than expected.  He did, however, win one of the proverbial three tickets out of Iowa.

There was a big gap with the other candidates.  How the mighty Newt has fallen!  And Perry!  And Bachmann, the winner of the Iowa straw poll!  If their supporters rally to Santorum, though, the percentages add up dramatically in his favor.  Do you think that will happen?

The case against Ron Paul

Conservative blogger Michael Gerson accuses Ron Paul of trying to completely undo the legacy of the Republican party and gives a litany of reasons to oppose him:

No other recent candidate hailing from the party of Lincoln has accused Abraham Lincoln of causing a “senseless” war and ruling with an “iron fist.” Or regarded Ronald Reagan’s presidency a “dramatic failure.” Or proposed the legalization of prostitution and heroin use. Or called America the most “aggressive, extended and expansionist” empire in world history. Or promised to abolish the CIA, depart NATO and withdraw military protection from South Korea. Or blamed terrorism on American militarism, since “they’re terrorists because we’re occupiers.” Or accused the American government of a Sept. 11 “coverup” and called for an investigation headed by Dennis Kucinich. Or described the killing of Osama bin Laden as “absolutely not necessary.” Or affirmed that he would not have sent American troops to Europe to end the Holocaust. Or excused Iranian nuclear ambitions as “natural,” while dismissing evidence of those ambitions as “war propaganda.” Or published a newsletter stating that the 1993 World Trade Center attack might have been “a setup by the Israeli Mossad,” and defending former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and criticizing the “evil of forced integration.”

Each of these is a disqualifying scandal. Taken together, a kind of grandeur creeps in. The ambition of Paul and his supporters is breathtaking. They wish to erase 158 years of Republican Party history in a single political season, substituting a platform that is isolationist, libertarian, conspiratorial and tinged with racism. It won’t happen. But some conservatives seem paradoxically drawn to the radicalism of Paul’s project. They prefer their poison pill covered in glass and washed down with battery acid. It proves their ideological manhood.

via Ron Paul’s quest to undo the party of Lincoln – The Washington Post.

Those of you who support Paul, is it true that he holds these positions?  (I don’t think they are all  from his ghostwritten newsletters.)  If so, do you agree with them?

From giveaway to takeaway

Economy columnist Robert Samuelson sees our government having to transition from a “giveaway” mode, which dominated over the last half century with politicians doling out benefits and tax breaks, to a “takeaway” mode, in which many of such goodies have to be taken away.  Samuelson says, however, that the politics of doing so are just not possible.

Any resolution of the budget impasse must repudiate, at least partially, the past half-century’s politics. Conservatives look at the required tax increases and say, “No way.” Liberals look at the required benefit cuts and say, “No way.”

Each reverts to scripted evasions. Liberals imply (wrongly) that taxing the rich will solve the long-term budget problem. It won’t. For example, the Forbes 400 richest Americans have a collective wealth of $1.5 trillion. If the government simply confiscated everything they own, and turned them into paupers, it would barely cover the one-time 2011 deficit of $1.3 trillion. Conservatives deplore “spending” in the abstract, ignoring the popularity of much spending, especially Social Security and Medicare.

So the political system is failing. It’s stuck in the past. It can’t make desirable choices about the future. It can’t resolve deep conflicts.

An alternative theory is that we’re muddling our way to a messy consensus. All the studies and failed negotiations lay the groundwork for ultimate accommodation. Perhaps. But it’s just as likely that this year’s partisan scapegoating implies more partisan scapegoating. Political leaders assume that financial markets won’t ever choke on U.S. debt and force higher interest rates, stiff spending cuts and tax increases.

At best, this is wishful thinking. At worst, it’s playing Russian roulette with the country’s future.

via A country in denial about its fiscal future – The Washington Post.

 

The evangelical who made Democrats liberal

Scott Farris has a feature in the Washington Post about how those who lost presidential campaigns often had big and long-lasting effects on their parties and on the nation.  Barry Goldwater and George McGovern would be the obvious examples.  But the most powerful influence, according to Farris, was that of evangelical Christian best known today for battling Darwinism in the Scopes trial:

But the greatest transformation probably occurred in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, 36, became the youngest man ever nominated for president.

Throughout the 19th century, the Democrats had been the conservative, small-government party. In a single election, in which he campaigned with “an excitement that was almost too intense for life,” as a contemporary reporter wrote, Bryan remade the Democratic Party into the progressive, populist group it remains today.

The 1896 campaign was an extraordinary struggle. Every major newspaper, even traditionally Democratic ones, endorsed Bryan’s opponent, William McKinley. Even Democratic President Grover Cleveland urged supporters to work for McKinley’s election, not Bryan’s. The Republicans significantly outspent Bryan, but he countered with a matchless energy, personally addressing 5 million people over the course of the campaign. Instead of being buried in a landslide, he won 47 percent of the popular vote and carried 22 of the 45 states.

Bryan, who saw religion as a force for progressive reform, is sometimes portrayed as a simpleton, even a reactionary, because of his crusade against the teaching of evolution as fact. Yet in many ways he was far ahead of his time. In 1896 and in his subsequent presidential campaigns in 1900 and 1908, he advocated for women’s suffrage, creation of the Federal Reserve and implementation of a progressive income tax, to name a few reforms. When Franklin Roosevelt implemented the New Deal, Herbert Hoover sniffed that it was just Bryanism by another name.

via The most important losers in American politics – The Washington Post.

This reminds us of a time when the conservative Christians we now call evangelicals tended to be politically liberal.  How do you account for that?  Can it be that applying the Bible to politics can cut both ways?

I would like you liberal readers to pay tribute to William Jennings Bryan.  You tend to say today that religion should be kept out of politics.  But don’t you appreciate how “Bryanism” gave us the New Deal and changed the Democratic party from the conservative small-government party to the progressive and big-government party it is today?

I would like you conservative readers to criticize William Jennings Bryan.  Don’t you think he should have kept his religion out of politics?  Are there elements of “Bryanism” in the Christian right today?


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